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No one can deny Prince Charles kudos for the good work he’s done during his historically long reign as Prince of Wales and will likely do as king someday. But, says Princess Diana’s biographer Andrew Morton, Charles will always be remembered for his failed marriage to the late Princess of Wales: “Just as Henry VIII is remembered for his six wives, Prince Charles is remembered for his first wife,” Morton tells PEOPLE.
Before marrying Diana on July 29, 1981, Charles was considered the world’s most eligible bachelor. But, just a few years into the marriage, cracks began to show, and they separated in 1992 after 11 years of marriage and affairs on both sides, perhaps most notably between Charles and the then Camilla Parker-Bowles (and now Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, his second wife). Charles and Diana's divorce was finalized in 1996.
Earlier this year, the Queen expressed her wish for Camilla to one day be Queen Consort. Charles and Camilla have been married for 17 years, and Diana has been gone for 25 years. Even still, Diana’s legacy lingers over the future king—and probably always will.
“His tragedy is whatever he does, whatever he says, however he behaves, he will be remembered for one thing: the fact that his fairytale marriage ended,” says Morton. “It will always haunt him. His life has been defined by his marriage.”
Charles does not publicly speak about his ex-wife, but, according to PEOPLE, did cooperate in an early-2000s investigation into her death in a car accident in 1997. He was questioned by U.K. police in 2005 as part of Operation Paget, the investigation into various conspiracy theories surrounding Diana’s death. Specifically, former head of Scotland Yard John Stevens told The Daily Mail that he spoke to Charles about a note Diana wrote in 1995 which said “My husband is planning ‘an accident’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury,” so that he could marry Tiggy Legge-Bourke, a former nanny for their sons Prince William and Prince Harry.
“Yes, allegations had been made about the Prince of Wales and other royals, but we had to find or examine the [existing] evidence before we approached him with formal questions,” Stevens says. “We found no other evidence to support the scenario suggested in Diana’s note.”
And, though Diana lost her life 25 years ago this week, she remains firmly in the public eye, and inextricably connected to Charles’ legacy.
“The ghost of Diana really stalked him at every turn,” says royal biographer Ingrid Seward.
Rachel Burchfield is a writer whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family. In addition to serving as the royal editor at Marie Claire, she has worked with publications like Vogue, Vanity Fair, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, and more. She cohosts Podcast Royal, a show that provides candid commentary on the biggest royal family headlines and offers segments on fashion, beauty, health and wellness, and lifestyle.
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